Deni Avdija Shines in Wizards Preseason Debut

Washington, DC – Neil Dalal, Sports Rabbi Correspondent

The Washington Wizards lost their preseason opener to the Brooklyn Nets, 119-114, but made it a game in the second half after trailing by as much as 26 points earlier. Without Bradley Beal (rest), Russell Westbrook (rest), Davis Bertans (rest), Ish Smith (groin), and Jerome Robinson (stomach), Washington was going to be at a disadvantage against the debut of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant for the Nets. Regardless of the exhibition loss, there were positives for the Wizards.

Obviously, the buzz surrounds Deni Avdija’s perfect shooting night in his Wizards debut. The rookie finished with 15 points on 6-for-6 shooting including three 3-pointers, tying as many as he ever made in a single EuroLeague game. Avdija’s first shot of the night came from deep on the weak side of the floor where he was left wide open. His second shot was also a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer off an Isaac Bonga offensive rebound. To beat the halftime buzzer, Avdija grabbed a defensive rebound with 6 seconds to go, ran the length of the floor, and dropped in a floater from just beyond the free-throw line. In the second half, Avdija would hit another 3-pointer when left open, drain a baseline floater over the contest of Jarrett Allen, and flip in a shot after backing down the smaller Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot.

“That he competed, he took the challenge,” head coach Scott Brooks said about Avdija. “Don’t complain about nothing, just do your job and I thought that he did that tonight. But he’s not going to go every game and not miss a shot. He played the right way, wasn’t looking to force anything. If there was a pass, he made the pass, open shot, he made the open shot, he drove when he had to drive. He was solid and in order to have success in this league, you really got to just be solid. Spectacular only happens occasionally, but if you’re solid, you’re going to have big-time success in this league.”

Despite just being 19-years old, Avdija has experienced a lot having already played three years professionally overseas. That’s part of the reason that he proclaimed, “I’m not afraid of anything,” when asked where he got the confidence from tonight. Washington knows that their rookie is only going to get better from here so it begs the question of whether they would fully throw Avdija into the fire by starting him at small forward. Brooks will keep that information close to the vest until the start of the regular season next Wednesday, but Avdija may not leave any choice if he keeps this play up.

“It’s amazing, it’s a dream come true,” Avdija expressed. “I worked so hard for it. People don’t understand what I’ve been through. Four years ago, I was just a kid who was going up to the professional league and I was so nervous going on the court and I think my first game I scored one point. It was a hell of a journey for me to get here. I woke up early throughout all the seasons, I went late to shoot, I was always in the gym working, while my friends are hanging out. That’s what brought me here. That’s why it’s so fun because you know you did those things and you worked so hard and I see what it brings me so I’m never gonna take the foot off the gas, always gonna work extra.”

Other highlights for the Wizards included 18 points for Rui Hachimura who was 3-for-4 from beyond the arc, an area where he has expressed improved confidence and results after offseason work. Similarly to Avdija, the three-point shot is something that will unlock the next level of Hachimura’s offensive game. Starting at point guard on Sunday was Raul Neto and the free-agent signing was productive with 17 points on just six shot attempts (9-for-10 from the free-throw line) and six assists. Before the game, Brooks mentioned for the first time that Westbrook may not play in back-to-back games this season, which will open up meaningful playing time for Neto in those situations.

The Wizards will return home and prepare for their final two preseason games, both at Capital One Arena and both against the Detroit Pistons on Thursday and Saturday. Then we should get a better look at the full Washington rotation with Westbrook, Beal, and Bertans seeing action.

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